Team story: How to overcome dog car sickness by Helen & Odin

We love to think of dogs in human terms. We talk about their facial expressions, moods and favourite toys. But it may surprise you to learn they also get a few of the ailments that bother us too! Dogs can get allergies, hay fever and even suffer from car sickness, as team member Helen messily discovered when she started travelling with her bordoodle, Odin. We asked her for a few tips on getting through those long car journeys as smoothly as possible.

Written by Jem Brownlee

5 minute read

First of all, tell us a bit about Odin!

He is a bordoodle (border collie/doodle)! He’s got lots of energy and loves people and other dogs, basically anyone willing to play with him. We got him in July 2022 from near Snowdonia and he looks a little bit like a cartoon version of a dog and loves it when he is fussed over (which is often).

Have you done much travelling with Odin? Where have you been, and what were the trips like?

We did our first trip away with him when he was three months old, on a big family holiday to Devon. He frolicked in fields during the day and fell asleep by the campfires at night. He met his first cow up close (it was actually a pet of the hosts) and also enjoyed getting in the sea for the first time too. As well as digging lots of holes at the beach.

At the time we were crate training him and he didn’t initially love being in his crate in a new place. We don’t normally share a room with him at home and getting used to sleeping in the same room did mean some interrupted nights away. We had to make sure that we had planned times away from the family where he could settle and nap too, as he is the type of dog who would never stop playing given the chance.

We were focusing on teaching him when he can get onto furniture and when he needs to get off. On this trip, he realised not all places love your dogs on the furniture or bed. This is something we have had to continually work on, as changing of ‘rules’ can be a bit confusing for him.

When did you notice the car sickness? How did it affect your travel plans?

On the day we picked him up, he proceeded to vomit all over my lap about ten minutes into the journey - talk about a warm welcome! That taught us to be prepared for sure and since then I’ve only been vomited on once (lucky me!). But I was in the back seat with him for that one, which probably didn’t help. In his defence, he had never been in a car before and he lived in a very remote area of Wales – with very twisty roads!

We found out that he was fine with motorway driving and would often fall asleep unless we got stuck in traffic. He was worst on twisty country roads or in more residential/city streets and roundabouts (with lots of turns). We would try and break journeys up if they were a bit longer too. We started looking not just for service stations for wee stops but for any areas that might be suitable for a good dog walk. We also looked to try and travel outside of peak hours, in the hope we could avoid stop-start traffic.

His car sickness would also affect when we would feed him before a journey. Rather than sticking to specific set times for dinner, we would make sure he ate quite a few hours before a journey (if possible) and also that we would have additional food available for the end of the journey.

How did you help him overcome it?

The set up So, the car set-up was something we had to consider when travelling anywhere. Odin travels in the back seat of our car. We used puppy pads under sheets/blankets so that if he did throw up, we would be able to easily take the sheets off and clean them and replace the pads.

We would always have at least two covers with us on a journey, so that one could be cleaned if needed for longer trips. We never used puppy pads for toilet training, so this option worked quite well for us. We then started using Tupperware for journeys to try and catch the sick from even reaching the blanket. This worked in some instances, but sadly, not always. It also has the benefit of your car not smelling like sick for the rest of the journey but does require a passenger with quick reactions and a strong stomach to help out.

Pre-journey walk We also found out that if we could tire him out before the journey, the chances of him just falling asleep were higher, but it wasn’t always practical to walk him beforehand. We got to a point where Odin was clearly associating just being in the car with being sick, for example, he would start salivating as soon as we got in the car before the engine was even on. So, we worked hard on focusing on shorter journeys closer to home and treating him in the car. We even just got into the car and gave him treats without even turning the engine on.

Fresh air I think the biggest thing that has improved his car sickness is access to fresh air. Now this only really works if your dog is near a window, but as Odin sits in the back seat, we can easily wind down the windows for him. I had only really seen dogs doing this in movies, sticking their head out of an open window, often with their tongue lolling out looking pretty dopey. We close them up on motorways or anywhere where the speed is too much, but for country roads and residential areas, this has definitely been the biggest help to abating his car sickness. Obviously, this is easier in nice weather and may involve us keeping our coats on in the colder months. But even if we have them open for a little bit, it can help.

Calming spray We also tried a calming spray for the back of the car. Although it doesn’t entirely stop him from feeling sick, I think it has helped overcome his anxiety associated with the car. It helps him get settled and also smells nice.

Lots of people had said that car sickness was something common in puppies, but as they got older they often grew out of it, but for Odin, although he has improved, I don’t think it is ever something he will likely ‘grow’ out of fully.

Got a favourite anecdote about a journey with Odin?

I don’t have any stories that I would call anecdotes, probably as throwing up all over the car quite regularly didn’t really feel that funny at the time. With hindsight however, there is something mildly funny about having to dispose of a Tupperware of sick as discreetly as possible in a remote village in Scotland…

One thing I do actually really like about our current solution (having his windows down) is just how much joy that he brings other drivers. Especially if we are stuck in traffic, it seems to be a guaranteed way to make people smile!

What advice would you give anyone with a dog that suffers from car sickness?

Be open to doing small positive journeys with your dog, even if it is something that you wouldn’t normally do/want to do. Also, try lots of different things until you find something that works for your dog. I think there was a point that we felt like awful dog parents, as every time we drove for a walk we felt like he would be sick and got us wondering if we were putting him through it unnecessarily. But he is a very active dog and absolutely loves being out on adventures as much as we do, so we felt it was important to persevere and find something that could help rather than giving up.

Check your route in advance, we were previously very reliant on Google Maps and would follow it blindly, now we are more wary of taking a very twisty, quicker option. My final piece of advice is, to be prepared. We travel with a bag of things for a clean-up job if needed. This includes a spare sheet, extra puppy pads, a big bottle of water to rinse, a Tupperware, special dog cleaning spray and a J-cloth, extra bin bags and poo bags.

Learn more about the Paws & Stay team >

Written by Jem Brownlee

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